'Psychotherapy Without the Self'

BY SUSAN SALTER REYNOLDS, Los Angeles Times, November 25, 2007

Los Angeles, USA -- Mark Epstein was a Buddhist before he became a psychiatrist. Much of his life's work has been an effort to integrate Buddhism (which embraces egolessness) and Western psychotherapy (which focuses intently on the self, the ego).

It is not so much that Buddhism denies the existence of self, Epstein explains up front, but that we in the West engage in too much hand-wringing over that ephemeral concept. Meditation can help loosen the grip of the self on the soul. Where does therapeutic analysis fit in the process of change?

Buddhism, Epstein writes, "is less about digging and more about opening..... In the classical Freudian view, the unconscious is the repository of forbidden urges and instincts, the awareness of which extends and completes the self.

In the Buddhist view, the unconscious represents the potential for enlightened consciousness, the latent knowledge that the self that we normally take to be so real has only relative, not absolute, reality."

Epstein is a clear writer and an insightful guide through the labyrinth. "Psychology Without the Self" has the odd effect of lightness: Burdens long carried seem to drop away as you read.

PSYCHOTHERAPY WITHOUT THE SELF: A Buddhist Perspective, by Mark Epstein. Yale University Press, 262 pp., $25.